U.Va. Professor Receives Innovation Award from the Association for Laboratory Automation

February 14, 2008 — James Landers, professor of chemistry and mechanical engineering and associate professor of pathology, was recently recognized with the 2008 Innovation Award from the Association for Laboratory Automation for his novel microfluidic genetic analysis technology.

The association presented Landers with this honor, which includes a $10,000 prize, on Jan. 30 at its LabAutomation2008 conference in Palm Springs, Calif. The award is made annually for “exceedingly innovative” work that contributes to research on automated technologies in the laboratory.

Landers’ unique device resembles a common microscope slide, but houses the analytical tools of an entire laboratory. Vastly complex and distinct procedures take place within millimeters of one another in tiny troughs that are etched into the chip. Minute tissue or blood samples are placed into the chip and electric charge is applied to the samples — for electrophoresis —  to separate out particular sections of DNA based on what type of diagnosis is needed. Once the DNA is separated, it is replicated on one portion of the chip and then pushed to yet another area to be screened for irregularities.

This lab-on-a-chip technology may enable rapid detection of cancer and infectious diseases at a fraction of the cost of current tests.

Research conducted with Landers’ lab-on-a-chip prototype (published in December 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) demonstrated its effectiveness in detecting bacteria-based infections in mice and humans within only 30 minutes, reducing the analysis time by almost two orders of magnitude.

"With the microchip MGA technology, it presents the possibility of obtaining a sample from a patient and, in the time it takes them to grab a cup of java at a nearby cafeteria, carry out the molecular test, then immediately talk about the test result, the implications and, if necessary, the treatment," Landers said.

Landers credited graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in his lab with providing the "brute-force effort and much of the creativity" in developing the technology; particularly Chris Easley, James Karlinsey, Joan Bienvenue and Lindsay Legendre.

New data that Landers presented at LabAutomation2008 from post-doctoral fellow Legendre shows the potential for cutting the diagnostic time for a T-cell lymphoma test from two weeks down to less than an hour. Landers' group is now working to fine-tune the processes on the chip and their effectiveness, but the use of this lab-on-a-chip technology for diagnostics may not be far off.

"The award really sanctions the microchip technology we have been developing as one of the 'next generation' technologies that will paradigm-shift clinical medicine," Landers said.